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This Frequently Asked Questions section of our website is organized with questions and answers in the categories listed below. Simply select a category to go to the questions in that section. Most answers will include links to other areas of our website where you may learn more in-depth answers to your questions.

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FAQs about LitvakSIG

What do I get for being a dues-paying member of LitvakSIG?

Dues-paying members of LitvakSIG have access to our Members Website which has additional and growing supplemental materials not available elsewhere.  Dues provide for the ability to vote in our annual elections, access to our By-Laws, Board of Directors meeting minutes and SIG financial reports. Additional information can be found on our Benefits of Membership page .

What is LitvakSIG’s membership year?

Our membership year is January 1 to December 31. Dues paid after the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur will be credited for the remainder of that calendar year and the following calendar year unless otherwise noted.

What does LitvakSIG need dues money for?

LitvakSIG dues are used to support the operating expenses of LitvakSIG including maintaining our various websites, regular international Board meetings held by telephone conference call, professional fees, an annual donation to JewishGen for hosting the All Lithuania Database (ALD) and our Discussion List, and for special activities, such as helping to sponsor Lithuanian archivists, researchers, or other special speakers at annual IAJGS conferences. We also fund the writing and translation of articles of interest to Litvak genealogists which are published in our Online Journal and on our Members Site. Most importantly, a portion of dues are used for the translation of records for the benefit of all Litvak researchers. Additional information can be found on our Benefits of Membership page .

How do I know which LitvakSIG project(s) I should contribute to?

The bulk of our activities are our geographic-specific Groups and Projects, whose primary purpose is to identify and collect data from available records for Lithuania from the Russian Empire Period (1795-1919) and Independent Lithuania (1919-1940). A number of shtetls now in Belarus and Poland fall under our aegis. Each of these groups and projects is separately funded by dedicated contributions raised for their specific purpose.

Our Groups and Projects are currently organized into two types:

  • Research Groups

    There are 14 District research groups (DRG) and one Guberniya research group (GRG) matching administrative districts ("uyezds") or guberniyas of the Russian Empire period (1795-1919). They focus on translating all available records for their district or guberniya which may include revision lists, family lists, tax lists, voter lists and vital records and which include all shtetls in the district or guberniya.
  • Special Projects

    There is only one special project ongoing at this time. It is the Internal Passports project for the city of Vilnius.

    To identify which special projects may be of interest to you it is necessary to know your shtetl, the district (uyezd) and guberniya it was in. You can find that information on the Shtetl Map & List under Research. Then look at the Research Group page for the district and the Special Projects page (both under Research).

    If you don’t know which shtetls are of interest yet, start with the Family Research page under Research.

Is my donation to LitvakSIG tax deductible?

YES - LitvakSIG is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation incorporated in the state of Iowa, USA. Contributions are tax deductible to the extent allowable by laws of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) of the US. Please consult your tax advisor.

How do I make a contribution to LitvakSIG?

We’re glad you asked. You can make an online contribution or print a form and mail in a contribution from the Contribute / Join page of our website.

Once I make a contribution to LitvakSIG, what should I expect?

When you make an online contribution to LitvakSIG via our webform, you will receive an email confirmation. Behind the scenes, this information is passed to our Treasurer and then relayed to the appropriate group and project managers. You will receive a Contribution Receipt by email from the Treasurer. This process can take up to 2 weeks. Please refer to the Timeline FAQ. After that time, you should hear directly from the group or project coordinators who received your contribution so that you may gain access to their Group or Project Websites (where applicable) and group data.
We appreciate your patience with this process. As LitvakSIG is staffed solely by volunteers who live around the globe, we have some variability in this process based on peoples’ availability.

Who is the current Treasurer for LitvakSIG and how do I reach him/her?

A list of all LitvakSIG volunteers, including the Treasurer, can be found on the LitvakSIG Leadership page of this website.

Does LitvakSIG offer private research services?

LitvakSIG does not offer private research services. LitvakSIG is staffed by volunteers, many of whom contribute significant time to the organization. Our goals are to obtain data translations as quickly and efficiently as possible. That data is made available to our contributors for personal research. We simply don’t have the manpower to do private research for individuals.

Does LitvakSIG need volunteers? How can I volunteer for LitvakSIG?

LitvakSIG is growing and always interested in encouraging people to get involved by volunteering. If you are interested in volunteering for LitvakSIG, please send an email to Volunteer Opportunities Page of our website. If you are interested in contributing content to our Online Journal, please contact our Online Journal Editor (contact information below). If you are interested in a Board position, please see LitvakSIG Board Positions. For additional information see the following webpages on our site: Our Leadership, LitvakSIG Board Positions, and Volunteer Opportunities.

How can I submit information or a website to be linked from LitvakSIG’s site?

If you have information to contribute to the LitvakSIG website, please contact the Webmaster.

How do I alert the Webmaster about a broken or incorrect link?

A list of all LitvakSIG volunteers, including the Webmaster, can be found on the LitvakSIG Leadership page of this website. Please contact Barry Halpern regarding broken or incorrect links.

How can I get a login and password to the LitvakSIG Members Site?

If you are a current dues-paying member of LitvakSIG you will have access to our Members Site. Once your dues payment is processed and the Membership Chair is advised, you will receive an invitation to the website by email. You choose your login and password when you register for access the first time. Make a note of what you choose since we don’t have access to it and cannot retrieve it for you. For assistance with the Members website, contact our Members Site Webmaster.

FAQs about Available Records for Lithuania

Where do records for Lithuania exist?

Records for Lithuania exist in a number of local and regional archives in present-day Lithuania, in other archives of the former Soviet Union, and in various organizations around the world such as YIVO in New York City. There is a list of Archives and Repositories from which LitvakSIG obtains data on this website, along with links to pages on each repository with contact and other relevant information including a general description of their holdings.

Some archives and repositories have online lists of holdings, but most do not or do not have them in English. LitvakSIG has access to and/or has created some records lists for selected archives, e.g. the Kaunas Regional Archives. Dues-Paying Members of LitvakSIG have access to some of these holdings lists on the LitvakSIG Members Site.

What kinds of records exist about Lithuanian Jews?

Extant records vary by locality, but you can find an overview of the kind of records that are available on this website on the Types of Records in the ALD page. In addition, you can drill down in that section of the website for more detailed explanations of why these records were created, by whom they were created, and what kind of data is usually in each type of record. Dig even further and you will find many example images and explanations of the meaning of data found on these records.

What are the oldest available records/How far back can I trace my family?

The earliest revision list (actually Poll Tax List) still extant in the Historical Archive (LVIA) was recorded in 1765. The next revision list (Poll Tax) was recorded in 1784. During both of those periods, the revision (poll tax) lists included most of the towns in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, an area stretching from the Baltic on the north to the Black Sea on the south. No surnames are listed as, at that time, the majority of Jews in Lithuania did not have a surname. Surnames begin to show up on revision lists from 1816 at which point some families were using surnames. If you find an ancestor listed in 1816 and his/her age is say, 70, that would take you back to a birth year of 1746. Due to the lack of surnames, however, it is difficult to trace the records further back than that. Family names began to appear more frequently starting in 1834. Metrical books (vital records) were introduced in the Russian Empire in 1835. But if that ancestor’s father is listed, you can reasonably assume that he was probably born 20 to 30 years earlier than his son.

Why are there substantial gaps in the years for which records exist?

Records were kept for many reasons, most of them related to taxation and conscription and not for posterity and genealogy research. Over the years, many were destroyed -- routinely, by accident and by malicious intent as by the Germans during WWII.

What exists today is a shadow of the former wealth of information. LitvakSIG’s mission is to identify Litvak records, have them translated and to make them available to LitvakSIG contributors and eventually to the public through the LitvakSIG All Lithuania Database.

Where can I find lists of people killed in the Shoah?

Some records of Jews killed in the Shoah may be found in the Lithuanian Central State Archives. Other sources include Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Where can I find lists of burials in Lithuanian Jewish cemeteries?

For information about Lithuanian Jewish Cemeteries consult the MACEVA Lithuanian Cemetery Catalog website, the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Jewish Cemetery Project – Lithuania . We are always interested in learning about links you have found and would like to add them to our growing list. Please submit the links to board member Barry Halpern.

Where can I find out if Vital Records exist for my town?

The most complete, up-to-date index of vital records in the Lithuanian State Historical Archive in Vilnius (LVIA) is available on the LitvakSIG Members Site. The coordinator of the group where your shtetl was can help you. You can find information on becoming a Member of LitvakSIG on our Join LitvakSIG page. Here are the Benefits of Membership.

Do the Lithuanian archives contain data for Belarus?

Yes. The Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius holds revision lists for the present day Disna, Lida, Oshmiany and Vileika uyezds (districts) of Belarus.
LitvakSIG has translated and entered data from some of these records for these districts into the All Lithuania Database.

In addition, many records from these districts have been entered into the BelarusSIG database on JewishGen.

Can I get records through the Lithuanian Embassy in Washington or elsewhere?

No

FAQs about the Research Process and Contacting the Archives

How do I get started researching my Litvak heritage?

A great place to get started is right here on the LitvakSIG.org website. If you are new to Lithuanian Jewish research, a good place to start on the site is the Family Research page. From there, you can follow the instructions and leverage other resources on this website and others.

When should I contact the archives?

You should contact the archives when you are ready to request a copy of specific records for your ancestors. Most archives in Lithuania no longer do personal research so you must do your own research or hire a private researcher to identify records of interest before contacting the archives. The archives will not copy entire lists, only selected records, e.g. a vital record or a revision list entry.

Additional information on the various Archives and Repositories which hold Litvak records can be found on this website.

Which archive(s) should I contact?

All data provided by LitvakSIG in the ALD or via LitvakSIG Projects contains information on the source archive and record reference information. You can use this information to identify the archive to write to for a copy of the record(s) as well as the reference information the archivist will need to find the record(s). See ALD Source References for further information on how to understand LitvakSIG data sources and references. Then you can find the contact information for each archive on the Archives and Repositories page of this website.

How do I make a request to the archives?

Each archive is independent and has its own procedures and policies. See the Archives and Repositories page of this website for additional information and links to specific repositories.

What should I send and not send to the archives with my request?

Since the archives are currently not performing personal research and your requests would be limited to copies of specific records you have identified, you should simply send your request with the record reference information.

You should not send a fee upfront with your request to the archives. Fees vary and depend on the information sought. Send your request first and the archives will reply with an explanation of the fee required and what form of payment they accept. Then you send payment. (Generally, the Lithuanian archives will accept payment via personal check as long as it is drawn on funds that are accepted worldwide and considered “hard currency” in Lithuania. If you use a postal money order, you should assure it is an International Postal Money Order as US Postal Money Orders are no longer valid outside the US and its possessions.)

There is no not need to send your family tree to any archive.

How much does it cost and how do I pay the archives for a search?

Each repository is independent and has its own procedures and policies. See the Archives and Repositories page of this website for additional information and links to specific repositories.

How long does it take to get a response from the archives?

Each repository is independent and has its own procedures and policies. See the Archives and Repositories page of this website for additional information and links to specific repositories.

What language will the response from the archives be in?

Each repository is independent and has its own procedures and policies. See the Archives and Repositories page of this website for additional information and links to specific repositories.

How can I hire a private researcher / translator in Lithuania?

We suggest you post a request for recommendations for private researchers on the LitvakSIG Digest. LitvakSIG does not endorse any recommendations and advises anyone hiring a private researcher to check references thoroughly. Search the digest archives for previously posted advice and suggestions.

FAQs about Travel to Lithuania

These are frequently asked questions (and answers!) about Travel to Lithuania.

What can I do in person at the archives in Lithuania?

While it is possible for individuals to do research in the archives in Lithuania, it is not recommended for most people. First of all, a researcher would have to be able to read Russian Cyrillic. Research is also slow and it is highly likely you would have to spend many days or weeks to get basic results unless you came very well prepared and knew exactly what you were looking for. Some records are not made available to anyone but the archivists due to the fragile nature of the original records. In general, it’s more effective to leverage LitvakSIG’s ALD and access to data through our Groups and Projects or to hire a private researcher than it is to do your own research in the Lithuanian archives.

If you do plan to do research in the archives in Lithuania, you should write to them several months in advance, give them good information, and tell them your arrival date at the archive. They will make an effort to have records waiting for you if you are clear about what you want to review, e.g. the 1858 Revision List for a specific town with an archival reference.

Does LitvakSIG run tours to Lithuania?

LitvakSIG is occasionally asked if it runs tours to Lithuania or if it endorses any tour program.  LitvakSIG does not run tours to Lithuania, is not affiliated with any tour organizer, and does not endorse any particular tour provider.  However, we are aware of several tour organizers and, as an accommodation to our members, we post information concerning such organizers. 

Perhaps the best-known tour organizers among Litvak genealogists are Howard Margol z"l and Peggy Freedman who have been running not-for-profit trips to Lithuania for over 20 years. You can find information on their trips at this website

Eli Rabinowitz leads groups to Lithuania and shares information about Litvaks throughout the world, see the website and his Litvak Portal.  

Other Litvak Heritage tour organizers:

http://milkandhoneytours.com/en/jewish_tours/vilnius/

http://koshertravelers.com/tours/lithuania-belarus-heritage-tour/

http://www.jerulita.lt/ 

Where can I get advice on planning my trip to Lithuania?

A great place to get current advice on planning your trip to Lithuania is the LitvakSIG Digest. Many very active genealogists participate in the forum and can give you up to date information on their experiences.

You can also read about others’ travel experiences in the LitvakSIG Online Journal’s Travelogues/Family History/History Category and contact the authors privately. If you do go on your family history trip, please consider writing your own Travelogue for submission to the Online Journal. Information on how to submit content for the Online Journal is here

FAQs about Understanding Data in the ALD and other Records

These are frequently asked questions (and answers!) about Understanding the Data in the ALD and other Records.

What languages are the records in natively?

Pre 1840 vital records are written in Polish. Pre World War I records are in Russian Cyrillic. Jewish vital records are in Cyrillic and duplicated in Hebrew or Yiddish. Post-World War I records are in Lithuanian. However, there can be exceptions. Pre World War I records in the Memel (Klaipeda) Archive are written mainly in German. (One-third of those records are now in the Lithuanian Central State Archives (LCVA), one-third are in a small town in Eastern Poland, and the remaining third in an archive in Berlin, Germany.)

Is there any more data than I find in the ALD for a given record?

Generally speaking when LitvakSIG translates records, we translate all available data from the records. Occasionally though there are things like signatures at the bottom of a page or some additional information like the amount of a tax paid that wasn’t translated. Some of our lists are indexes. For those records we’ve indexed, there very well may be additional data, such as photos or whole paragraphs of descriptive information in the example of Farmers Lists. Once you have found your family in records, it makes sense to research what data is typically on the records you have found (See Types of Records in the ALD and scroll down) and to write to the archives for copies of the actual records.

I had a married female ancestor who was married to X, as indicated by personal knowledge and/or family and revision lists, her marriage record,and/or the birth records of her children. However, according to the translation of her death record, it says that X was her father. That does not appear to be correct.
 
Most of the vital records were translated by someone who is not Jewish, does not know Hebrew/Yiddish and can translate only what is in the Russian record. In many vital records, the Russian version was not exactly clear who was the father, or son. The vital records were recorded by a Rabbi who was probably more fluent in Hebrew/Yiddish than in Russian. The Hebrew version is more clear on the precise relationship of others to the deceased. For best results, a researcher should obtain copies of the original vital records that were either microfilmed by the Mormons, or from the archive, and have both the Russian and Hebrew/Yiddish translated.

What is a Family Number in a Revision List? What is its significance?

Family numbers in Revision Lists and other lists are important because they are carried forward through time, allowing you to connect different branches of the family from one Revision or Family List to another. These lists often have former family number fields.

How do I get a paper copy of a record?

Write to the archives for a copy. See the information in the FAQ about the Research Process and Contacting the Archives for more information. Also see these pages on our website: Archives and Repositories and ALD Source References.

Why does a record say my ancestor was “illiterate?”

Your ancestor may have had an excellent command of Hebrew and/or Yiddish including reading and writing. However, if he was not able to read and write in the Russian language, the Russians considered him illiterate.

My ancestor’s name was “Moshe.” Why does the record say “Movsha”?

You will find many variations in spelling of the same name depending on whether the name was spelled in Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian, Polish or Lithuanian. Most of our ancestors spoke Yiddish in their daily lives and prayed in Hebrew. But most of the official documents were in old Russian Cyrillic. Clerks transliterated their Yiddish names into Russian letters. Then, in our databases, we transliterate into English! There is information on the Translation, Transliteration, and Database Standards for the ALD as well as a Database of Lithuania Given Names on this website if you want to delve deeper into this topic.

I found records in the ALD for people with the same surname and shtetl as my family but I don’t recognize some of the given names. Is it likely these are relatives?

Depending on the size of the shtetls or town (as long as we’re not talking Kaunas or Vilnius here or maybe one of the bigger district-named cities), it’s highly likely you have found previously unknown relatives. It is best to keep the information from those records. You may have thought your great-grandfather had only one brother when, in fact, he had three brothers and two sisters. At a later date, you will probably locate other records that will enable you to verify who they were and which of your ancestors they were related to.

What is the meaning of “Age Last” on a Revision or Family List?

Usually, the "Age Last" refers to the previous MAJOR revision list, i.e., the 1858 list or the 1834 list. However, that is not always the case. Using an 1874 Family List as an example, for some towns additional lists were recorded for years between 1858 and 1874. The "Age Last" on the 1874 list could refer to the 1858 list but it could also refer to one of the additional lists. In some cases, those additional lists were destroyed and no longer exist so there is no way to check it out.
The archivists in the Lithuanian archives have very little confidence in the ages stated in the "Age Last" column because there is no way to know which previous list is referred to. An exception is, if the list states which year the "Age Last" refers to. This is rarely recorded but is present on some lists.

Where my ancestor was listed on a Revision List there is a notation that he was called to the army in a particular year, Section X, and a number. Can the archives find his Russian Army record from this information?

No. Recruitment Committee records do not exist in the Lithuanian archives. The Kaunas Archive has some personal files of men who tried to escape conscription, or had a legal reason to avoid military service, but these records are not indexed and the place of residence is not noted.